Encinitas council to begin repealing rules blocking cannabis business activity

Wednesday’s action first step toward implementing voter-approved measure that loosened restrictions


Encinitas will begin amending and repealing city ordinances in order to allow cannabis retail sales, commercial cultivation, distribution and product manufacturing, the City Council unanimously decided Wednesday night, June 16.

A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif., in 2019.
A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis farm in Gardena, Calif., in 2019.
(Associated Press)

However, council members said, many questions remain about exactly how they’ll regulate all the cannabis business activity that they’re now forced to permit due to the passage of Measure H, a citizens’ initiative the city’s voters narrowly approved in November.

Among those yet-unanswered questions is what they’ll do about taxing cannabis business activity, what steps they’ll take to keep children from being attracted to using cannabis and how they’ll handle complaints about noxious odors from growing operations.

One question that isn’t in doubt is whether the city will allow commercial cannabis businesses. The city’s voters settled that when they approved Measure H. That initiative allows four cannabis retail sales stores to open in the city; permits commercial cannabis cultivation in greenhouses on agriculturally zoned land; and allows cannabis kitchens, distribution facilities and product manufacturers to locate in some parts of the city.

The City Council is scheduled to reaffirm Wednesday night’s vote at its Aug. 11 meeting. After that, the state Coastal Commission will review the new regulations and once that’s done, Encinitas can begin accepting cannabis business applications.

Measure H did spell out the restrictions the city is allowed to set on cannabis businesses. In the case of retail sales stores, those restrictions include a requirement that a security officer be on the premises 24 hours a day, that the hours of operation can only be between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m., and that cannabis retail sales stores must be 1,000 feet or more from day care centers, playgrounds, schools and other fellow cannabis retailers.

The city can’t make the regulations more strict than what’s in Measure H, but it does have a little flexibility when it comes to managing its impact, city officials have said. Last month, the city’s Planning Commission put forward a series of suggestions, including establishing a public education campaign to let residents know what will be allowed, creating a map showing where cannabis businesses can locate, and approving an odor management ordinance for cannabis growing operations.

On Wednesday night, June 16, the City Council agreed to pursue all of those recommendations.

“They seemed really reasonable (and) directed toward helping us manage this,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said.

Council members also added a few suggestions of their own, including looking into reworking city sign regulations to make certain future cannabis retail businesses do not use cartoon characters or other advertising that would be particularly attractive to children.

Councilwoman Joy Lyndes asked for the advertising limitation, saying it seemed “well aligned” with what’s important to the city’s residents.

Plans also are in the works for a cannabis taxing measure, City Manager Pamela Antil said, mentioning that she’s likely to recommend putting it on the ballot next year.

While some suggestions may be workable, others likely are not, city staff members said.

Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze asked if the city could prioritize applicants who seek one of the four retail sales permits that the city will be distributing using a lottery system, but was told that the city likely could not give priority to women-owned businesses or other special categories. Councilman Joe Mosca asked if the city could give preference to small companies, but was told that because the city is requiring these retail sales operations to have three years of experience, that’s likely going to eliminate any small company.

Councilman Tony Kranz, who opposed Measure H, said “big weed” corporations wrote the initiative, paid people to collect signatures to put it on the ballot and locked the city into the position of being able to do little to change it until a mandatory, three-year waiting period ends. He said he was looking forward to the three-year period coming to an end and said the city should start collecting suggestions now for changing the measure.

The Aug. 11 meeting when the cannabis item will next appear will be the council’s first in-person meeting in more than a year due to California’s coronavirus-related health restrictions. Earlier in June, city officials had said they hoped to make the June 23 meeting their first in-person session, but they since learned that because of public noticing requirements it can’t occur until the August session, Antil said. There are no July meetings because the council is on its annual summer recess during that period.

— Barbara Henry is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune